Anti workfare protestors descended on Primark in Edinburgh's city centre on Saturday 14 July. The Princes Street store was picketed by protestors declaring their opposition to the government's work-for-your-benefits schemes.
The demo, organised by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, was part of a UK-wide week of action co-ordinated through the Boycott Workfare network. The week has already seen a major success with “health” food shop Holland and Barrett announcing their withdrawal from workfare the day before their stores were set to be targetted by demonstrations all round Britain.
Thus the Edinburgh demo was re-located from Holland and Barrett to Primark, a fitting target as not only are Primark involved in exploiting unemployed people through workfare, they are notorious dealers in sweatshop-produced clothing, and heavily involved in tax evasion schemes
With a giant banner proclaiming NO FORCED WORK FOR OUR BENEFITS the Edinburgh demonstrators displayed anti workfare placards and set up a stall right in front of Primark's new store. Around 700 leaflets were distributed to passers-by, many of whom made clear their agreement with the protest.
“In their desperation to help out big business and to persecute the jobless victims of our mad capitalist economy the government wants some of us working for nothing..... Workfare is an assault on human dignity, boosts profits at the expense of the poorest and undermines wages and conditions for paid workers,” explained the leaflets, going on to emphasise the success of the fight back as companies such as Sainsbury's, TK Maxx and Boots have all left the schemes after protests.
Of course the demo was against Primark's bosses, not their workers – and thus two protestors entered Primark to give out leaflets to workers, urging more rights and wages for workers on the High Street. Unsurprisingly management, security and police all combined to hunt down the leafleters and evict them from the store – there's no freedom of speech or democracy in the workplace as far as Primark are concerned! In fact ECAP has heard complaints from Primark workers in Edinburgh about how badly the management treat the workers in this store.
The 20 – 30 demo participants included people themselves forced onto workfare schemes, for example through the multinational work provider and fraudster A4e. For well over two years A4e regularly called the police to prevent ECAP reps accompanying unemployed people there. But earlier this year A4e gave in and recognised claimants' rights to be accompanied by their own rep, including ECAP. ECAP gives claimants at A4e and other providers like Ingeus full backing in standing up against bad treatment and sanctions, and successes have been registered in having some sanctions overturned.
STOP THE BULLIES
“We urge all forced onto these workfare schemes to stand up for their rights,” said Michael Stevenson of ECAP. “Unemployed people can decline to go on work placements under the Work Programme – we have a DWP letter stating this, plus the A4e area manager for Scotland, Alison Nimmo has stated that such placements have to be agreed and unemployed people can decide not to go on them without being sanctioned. But an unemployed claimant at A4e told us last week that their A4e adviser was threatening they could lose their benefits if they didn't go on a work placement. We need to join together to stop this bullying.”
This is the latest in several anti workfare demos in Edinburgh, the previous protest on 21 May seeing the targetted British Heart Foundation store on Nicolson Street agreeing to put a sign in their window stating that they did not participate in the work-for-your-benefits schemes. However the British Heart Foundation stores in Leith , and indeed Britain-wide are major participants, and can expect more visits soon, as can other exploiters such as Pound-stretcher whose Kirkgate shop was invaded on the last Britain-wide Day of Action on 31 March.
“Our success in forcing Holland and Barrett to drop workfare is encouraging us to step up our activities, and we urge everyone in the Edinburgh area opposed to slave labour to contact us to get involved,” say Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty.
EDINBURGH COALITION AGAINST POVERTY
E mail email@example.com for more info, to receive leaflets, stickers and posters, to join the e mail list and solidarity network.
ECAP Organising meetings last Monday each month 7pm at ACE, 17 W Montgomery Place EH7 5HA, next meeting 30 July.
Primark operate tax evasion schemes both on its own behalf via dodgy payments to Primark in Dublin, and through parent company Associated British Food's string of Luxembourg-registered companies. See for example Private Eye 13.4.11
While protests have forced some companies like Waterstones to withdraw from workfare, others like Primark stay in the schemes
The UK-wide week of action against workfare from 7 – 14 July saw protests in over 20 locations plus communications blockades of providers, companies and charities participating in slave labour.